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Chaos Scenario: Blackout During Olympics

November 16th, 2009

Vehicle lights illuminate Atlantica Avenue at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro during the blackout.

The recent blackout in Brazil, which left over 50 million people without power across 18 states, raised questions about whether the country is sufficiently prepared to provide secure energy when it hosts the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The city of Rio de Janeiro, which will host the Olympics was one of the most affected by the power outage. As for the World Cup, 5 of the 12 cities that will be venues for soccer events were hit by the electricity failure.

“FIFA (International Federation of Football Association) demands that there is primary and secondary supply of energy, as well as generators inside the stadiums. If the primary and secondary services fail, we need to guarantee at least the minimum of minimums, i.e., the holding of the match and its broadcasting,” says Robson Calil Chaar from the consultancy firm Deloitte.

“Imagine what it would be a mob of foreigners getting out of the stadium and having to face complete darkness. It will be chaos and it will cause irreparable damages to the country’s image.”

The energy analyst at the Tendências consultancy firm, Walter de Vitto, believes that Brazil needs to increase its effort to monitor and inspect the nation’s energy system. “It is unfeasible to “surround” completely the system, the cost would be prohibitive,” he comments.

If the country wants to get an almost zero risk during the international events, he says, the solution would be to temporarily invert the logic of the current system. “For a month,” he proposes, “thermoelectric plants, located closer to the venues, would be the main source in the hosting cities, and the hydroelectric plants would take care of the rest of the country. It gets more expensive, but it guarantees the event.”

On Friday, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva revealed that he had ordered all government offices linked to the power industry to make an in depth investigation into the Tuesday blackout which he described as a “national disaster.”

“I’ve told all the offices and organizations that we need an in depth investigation into what really happened. We have the instruments to find out what occurred and why did it occur,” said Lula.

“If our electric system and grid is solid, as we think it is, why did we have such a disaster? I want a very correct and exact investigation and once we have the final results, public opinion will be informed of what happened, which was the real cause for the blackout,” he added.

Lula said he was convinced the Brazilian power grid and generation plants make up a solid system, but that does not eliminate the possibilities of failures.

“Nothing in this world can be structured in such a way to supplant something caused by a natural disaster or even human error, which we still do not know.”

However is spite of the fact that so far no full investigation has been completed “I can guarantee the Brazilian population that Brazil will not be short of energy.”

“The Brazilian people won’t have any problem with lack of power because Brazil is producing more than the energy demanded,” he underlined.

With Friday’s remarks Lula backed off from earlier claims by his Energy minister that strong storms, wind and lighting caused a failure in transmission lines, especially after the government’s own satellite imagery showed that lightning strikes were neither close nor strong enough to cause such damage.

After the blackout darkened both Rio and São Paulo and other key cities Tuesday night, Brazilian Energy Minister Edison Lobão said it was bad weather that took out transmission lines running from Itaipu to two electric substations in São Paulo state. Three key transformers short-circuited, he said.

But the National Institute for Space Research said the nearest lightning strikes were ten kilometers from any transmission line. Others pointed out that the transformers are built to withstand the heavy rains common in Brazil.

In fighting also seems to have surfaced: Jorge Miguel Samek, the head of Itaipu Binational, the agency in charge of the dam which provided most of the collapsed power, said the problem had nothing to do with the hydroelectric project, but with a failure in the transmission lines. But, Furnas Centrais Elétricas, the electric company that oversees the lines, said it had detected no problems with the lines.

The blackouts came three days after the United States CBS’s “60 Minutes” news program reported that two past Brazilian power outages were caused by hackers.

Lobão declined to directly answer a question about whether hackers were involved, and Lula knocked down questions about the blackout being the result of sabotage. “There is no reason for anyone to think that it was a bigger thing than it really was,” he said Friday.

http://www.brazzilmag.com


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